In this episode, the inspiring Richard Flint shares his extraordinary life story. We learn about his exceptional mental strength to overcome childhood trauma while rediscovering his self-worth and the transformational power of discipline, commitment, accountability, and integrity. Richard is a Keynote Speaker, Podcaster, Trainer, Coach, Mentor, the CEO of Richard Flint Seminars, and the Author of 19 books.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and I am particularly excited about the guest that we have with us today. He is a prolific author, having written 19 books and produced more than 100 audio and video learning programs. That’s a bunch! He’s also been a finalist for the top self-help book of 2005. And he has made appearances on over 100 radio and TV shows, showcasing his exceptional ability to captivate audiences with his experience, insights, and knowledge. He also hosts his acclaimed podcast, “Let’s Talk Human Behavior,” where he shares his extensive knowledge and helps listeners unlock their potential. So, welcome, Richard Flint.
Richard Flint: Hey, Steve! Thank you; glad to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, same here. We’re going to have a fun time today, especially because of our desire to just leave things better than we found them. We’re so grateful to have our listeners tuning in. This is a group that really is committed to being the very best that they can be and learning new ideas and thoughts. I mean, it’s such an inspiration to have them. And before we get going, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Richard, and then we’ll launch right into the interview. He is the chairman and CEO of Flint Inc., a highly sought-after company that specializes in transformative training and development of individuals, companies, and associations. With over 35 years of experience in the field of human behavior and development, he has cemented himself as a renowned keynote speaker and seminar leader. So, we are so excited to have you here, Richard. Let’s just start out; please share with our listeners—tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you. We’d just love to get to know a little more about you.
Richard Flint: Steve, we all have a “yesterday.” And our “today” is based on what we do with our “yesterday.” I’ve worked with so many people that have gotten trapped in their “yesterday,” and they spend their entire life living from “yesterday” to “today,” and never get to “today” to “tomorrow.” And my life has been a challenge, I’ll tell you. I’ll just give an overview of me. I was born in New Orleans. If you ask me about my natural dad, I can’t tell you anything about him. If you can see my birth certificate, where it says “Father,” there’s no name. My natural mother was a prostitute in New Orleans, and I was the result of a one-night stand that she had with a gentleman. And she didn’t want me. So, when I was 2 weeks old, I was adopted into a family where I was only adopted because my dad wanted a son. They had three daughters, none of them natural; they were all adopted. And my mother made it clear to me that I was not someone that she welcomed into our home. Steve, my memories go back to the age of six, and from the age of six to the age of 16, there wasn’t a day of my life that my mother didn’t remind me of three questions or three statements that she would make: “You are the stupidest kid I’ve ever met in my life.” And by the way, we know parents don’t lie, so whatever a parent tells you must be the truth. She told me that “I would never amount to anything in my life.” And the one that would rip my heart out is when she would look at me and say, “I’m sorry we adopted you. My greatest day will be the day when you’re no longer in my house.”
Richard Flint: So, when I was 12, we moved from New Orleans to Oklahoma. When I was 15, my mother told me that if I was to live in her house—and I always pay attention to people’s pronouns—if I was to live in her house, I had to pay for the room. So, I got a job at an IGA grocery store there in Ardmore, Oklahoma. And every night, I would call my dad and he’d come get me. I’d been 16 for two weeks, Steve, and I called my dad to come get me, and my dad drove up from the grocery store, just like he always did. And I started to walk toward the car, and my dad opened the car door, and he looked across the top of the car. And he said, “Richard, wait a minute.” So, I just stopped. And when my dad stepped behind the car, I saw what was happening because Dad was carrying something. What it was? It was a suitcase. And he came over and he set the suitcase down beside me. I was informed that that night, my mother had decided that I could no longer live in her house. And if you couldn’t know my dad, he was a great guy in his own way but had no idea how to handle my mother. And he hugged me, and he said, “Richard, I don’t want you to ever forget this. I love you very much.” And then he didn’t walk back to the car; he almost ran back to the car. And he leaned across the top of the car and looked at me and pointed a finger at me and said, “You take care of yourself.” And the next memory I have that night is my dad’s driving off. A man grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to get out of the street because I was watching my dad drive away. And my heart was about to jump out of my chest. And inside, I was just screaming, “If you love me, how can you do this?”
Richard Flint: At 16, what are you going to do? I walked back over and looked at the suitcase, picked it up, went into downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma. And I asked for a room in the Hotel Ardmore, and they looked at me like I was crazy, but I had cash. So, they gave me a key. I went up to the seventh floor, put the key in the door, opened the door, and Steve, I walked in, never turned the lights on. Just dropped the suitcase, walked across the room, opened the window, and crawled out and sat on the ledge. And there, on that ledge, I had to make a decision. It was a turning point in my life. Do I live, or do I die? And I understand people who contemplate suicide because the only people who can take their own life are people who feel that if they weren’t here, they’d never be missed. On that ledge, I made a decision: If I jumped, my mother would win. And I wasn’t about to give that lady that victory in my life. And I crawled back in, and the next morning, I called a guy whose kids were my best friends. And I told Troy what had happened. He said, “You wait there; I’ll be there as soon as I can.” In about 30 minutes later, he was in my room. We talked for about two and a half hours. And he finally asked me, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m not going back there.” So, Troy helped me find a room with a lady who was the editor of the daily newspaper in town, and I would pay that lady $5 a week to live in her house. And every day, I’d go to school, then go to football or tennis practice. I’d go to that IGA store; I’d work until nine o’clock, and I would come back to her house and sit in that kitchen, doing my homework until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Because I knew that when I went into that bedroom, and I crawled into that bed, I was going to cry myself to sleep. Because I think the loneliest feeling in the world is definitely when you feel no one really loves you or cares about you.
Richard Flint: When I was a sophomore in college, I made the decision: I had to confront my mom and dad. I have 16 laws that hold my life together, Steve, and one of those is this: Anything in life you don’t confront, you validate. And I knew that if I did not confront my mom and dad, I would never understand all this. So, it was 62 miles from my mom and dad’s front door to my room in college. I got to their house, and man, I was scared to death. I got there but I just drove by their house, and 10 miles down the road, I pulled over and thought, “If you don’t do this now, you’re never gonna do it.” So, I turned the car around and went back. I pulled into their driveway and sat there, staring at that wooden door and that screen door. Finally, I told myself, “You’ve got to do this.” So, I got out of my car, and I ran to the door because I knew if I walked, I would run back to my car. I knocked on the screen door, and my dad was the person who opened the wooden door. When my dad saw me, he just turned white. I wish you could have been there because my dad never bothered to unlock the screen door; he actually stepped right through the screen door. And with one hug, my dad told me everything that had been pent up inside of him. He carried me to the living room, pretty much, and after a couple of minutes, he realized my mother wasn’t there. She was in the kitchen, fixing breakfast. He called for her. When she walked out of the kitchen, into the doorframe, she looked at me and just paused. She never took her eyes off of me. She took her left hand, reached around behind her, untied her apron; took her right hand, reached down, picked up her purse; took out her car keys, walked out the back door, and drove off. And I never saw her again. That, Steve, was probably the biggest turning point I’ve ever had in my life. Because I realized, when she walked out that back door, nothing that I could say or do was ever going to change her opinion. And I had lived my life up to that point trying to prove to her she was wrong. And shen she walked out that door, she freed me. What that created within me, Steve, is a drive that started and still continues today. Because if you could walk around my house here in South Florida, you’d see, in three different places, there’s a sticky note, and there’s one message on all three of those: “Somebody’s going to need me today.” And that has been a driving force in my life, to continue to grow and to learn, and to be the best that I can be at who I am.
Richard Flint: The number one philosophy in my life is, “Why spend my life being a carbon copy when I’m the original?” God created me as me, and to make a difference. And I struggled with that for years because I was always trying to get people to love me, trying to prove myself that I wasn’t what my mother said that I was. And I came to a place where I realized, the greatest thing that I can offer people is to find my place, find my gifts, find my talents, and find my value. And every day, work on that to become the best that I can be. And I’m not perfect; I’ll never be perfect. But I’ll tell you something: I have three Ds right now that drive my life, and they’ve driven my life for years. I have a desire to be better every day. I never want to be the person that yesterday ended. And I have the determination that there’s more for me to do with my life. And every day, I look for that stage and define how I can step on that stage and do the one thing I really want to do with my life, and that is to create a positive presence that has presence when I’m not present. And to make those happen, I’m probably the most disciplined person you’ll ever meet in your life. And I find that the great weakness in a lot of people have is that they have the hunger to be the best; they have this determination, but they don’t have the discipline. And without discipline, what I’ve learned in researching people, Steve, is that without discipline, you live with your commitment as words. But when you have that discipline within you, you live with your commitment as conviction. And it’s that conviction that takes you beyond where other people stop.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, great! Well, thank you for sharing that background. That’s a powerful experience. And I appreciate the feelings you shared. The drive that sometimes comes from powerful experiences—like that, negative experiences even—can drive us in a positive direction. So, as you reflect on your life, and where you came from—being at that time in life—to where you’re at now, what are some of the most important lessons learned for you that would help you be successful and happy that our listeners could enjoy as well?
Richard Flint: Well, number one: Don’t be who I am not; be me. If I’m trying to emulate you, I’m never going to be my best. So, I’ve got to be me; I’ve got to be that original. And every day, search within me for the ways in which I can grow. And then, secondly, the thing that I said earlier: Anything in life you don’t confront, you validate. I used to work on the staff of a very large church, and I was the director of counseling. What I would find, when people would come to me for counseling, Steve, is that they were trapped by what they never confronted. And if I don’t confront it, it remains a part of me. I believe in life that our “yesterday” is made up of two filing cabinets. One filing cabinet has all the pain, all of the self-destruction, all the worry, all the doubt, all of the negative experiences. And then another set of file cabinets has all my successes. And what I learn depends on which file cabinet I go to. I have found with people that we collect more than we learn from. I find so many people are trapped by their “yesterday.” Yesterday is a reference library; it’s not a room to live in. So many people get trapped in “yesterday.” And when they’re trapped in “yesterday,” they live in this circle of sameness. So, becoming better becomes worse. But being your best becomes conviction and becomes a commitment. If you ask anyone around this globe—and I’ve spoken all over the world—you ask anyone, “What do you remember about this guy?” They’re gonna tell you three words: “Behavior never lies.” And the essence of truth is not what you and I talk about; it’s what we do. And when I learn about people, I listen to everything you say, but I’m gonna study your behavior because behavior is the truth of your life.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, so let’s talk about behavior. Not long ago—or maybe it’s been a while ago—you wrote a book on human behavior. Tell us about that. “Behavior Never Lies”: What’s in the book? Why did you write the book? And what’s it about?
Richard Flint: Well, the book is about learning to be honest with yourself. One of the things that I learned in the counseling center is that most people want honesty, as long as it’s not honest. It is much easier for me to be honest about you than it is for me to be honest about me. Steve, I had this company call me, and the owner of the company comments, “I’d like for you to come here and help me with my people.” He says, “I want to understand one thing with you, and I want you to be clear: I know that when you come, you’re going to want to talk to me.” And he says, “I am not the issue. If you come, then you gotta leave me alone.” I said, “Then I’m not the person for you.” Because if the leader doesn’t lead, then they become a participant in the confusion. Behavior never lies. We talk about how you learn to believe in yourself. It was a hard lesson for me to learn because I had to overcome those three things that my mother told me about me. We talked about expanding your horizons. What are you looking for? I think life, if you want to have success in life, you’ve got to be able to answer four questions. What do you really want? And it’s not, ‘What do you want?’ That’s shallow. It’s, ‘What do you really want?’ And it’s that word ‘really’ that penetrates and that creates your purpose. The second question is, ‘Why do you really want this?’ That creates your sense of passion. And then the last two questions are the tough questions: ‘What price are you willing to pay to achieve this?’ I would assume that you haven’t gotten to where you are in your life without being knocked down at least twice in your life, and having to get backed up.
Richard Flint: People ask me all the time, “How do you view failure? Don’t you worry about failure?” No. I define failure as fertilizer. All failure is fertilizer, and the purpose of fertilizer is growth. So, what price am I willing to pay? And if you’re not willing to pay the price, you have to stop right there. And then the fourth question is, ‘What behaviors will you have to improve that will allow you to continue to live from today to tomorrow?’ And then we talk about accountability. Steve, I think there are two words right now in our society that are wanting to be erased. One is accountability; the second is integrity. I think those are two words that are powerful words. If you’re going to be the best you can be, you have to hold yourself accountable, and you have to be a person of integrity. Because I can listen to what you say, but if you contradict yourself with your behavior, I can’t trust you. And then we’re going to talk about the world of inconsistencies. I found that there are four things that destroy companies from the inside: inefficiencies, inconsistencies, non-partnership people, and the thing that is epidemic today in leadership—tired leaders that are fatigued. I’ve never seen tiredness among leaders as what I’m seeing today, and they’re fatigued. And what happens when you become tired and fatigued? You stop living from your mind down, and you start living from your emotions up. And there are too many decisions made today driven by emotions. COVID really exposed a lot of the weaknesses in leaders to date, and how they have become reactive rather than responsive.
Richard Flint: We talked about how do you find the right people to be around your life. Have you ever had to eliminate someone from your life? I mean, if you have, was it easy?
Steve Shallenberger: It’s hard.
Richard Flint: It’s hard. But what happens if we surround our life with the wrong people? Then what happens? We give them ownership of our life. And then we’re going to talk about a very powerful word, and that’s the word ‘awareness.’ Because I think you have to be aware of what is before you can ever find your purpose. If you’re not aware, and you try to find your purpose, life just becomes a guess. But if I’m aware of my life, where I am, what I’m dealing with, and what I have to be to be the best in that world, then I have to be aware to find my purpose. And then when we talk about ‘Behavior Never Lies,’ one of the most unappreciated and misunderstood words there is in life is ‘pace.’ What I found today is people are hurting themselves with their pace. If your pace is too slow, you procrastinate. If your pace is too fast, you create collisions with yourself. So how do you establish that behavior that creates the right pace for your life? And then the last chapter in the book talks about how do you create that presence that has a positive presence when you’re not present. That’s the greatest legacy that there is: when every day people respect you because of your presence, people listen to you because of your presence, and people respond to you because they believe in you. And that’s because of the quality of the presence that you commit. This book is used around the word Steve. It’s used in faculties; it’s used in companies. I have a picture of a group of pilots on one of the aircraft carriers, sitting around, reading and discussing ‘Behavior Never Lies.’ And you know the thrill of writing a book and having it make a difference in people’s lives.
Steve Shallenberger: So, ‘Behavior Never Lies’ really has to do with what you say is equal to what you do, and it’s learning those right behaviors that make a difference.
Richard Flint: Yep. Because the essence of truth is not in words; it’s in behavior. How many times have you been disappointed because people tell you what they’re going to do, but their behavior never allows them to do it? It’s that difference between, “I’m committed to doing this, so I’m going to tell you,” and, “I’m committed to do this, and you’ll see it with my behavior of conviction.”
Steve Shallenberger: Now, you may have already covered this, Richard, and that is, some of the attributes of exceptional leaders. So, how do you define an exceptional leader? And what do some of those attributes look like?
Richard Flint: Well, first of all, we’ve got to define the word “exceptional,” because you have poor, average, good, and great leaders. There is that word that we don’t talk enough about, and that’s that dimension beyond great, and that’s “exceptional.” And I define “exceptional” for the books that I’ve written are dictionaries. And I’ve taken 150 words in each one of them and redefined them into what we can use them today. I define “exceptional” as taking a step beyond where other people stop. And for me, that means you’ve got to master a set of skills in your life. First of all, and to me, the most important skill that a leader can have is in listening. I was having this conversation with a leader this morning, who’s part of one of my mentoring groups. And we were talking about the crisis that he’s developing right now. And it’s all because he’s better at hearing than he is at listening. And we hear a lot of things, but we don’t listen to them. He’s the type of person that he always has to be right. So, he’s not going to listen to anything that goes against what he feels about himself. And listening is a skill, and it demands pace, and it demands patience. And then the second skill that an exceptional leader has, for me, is their ability to communicate. And that’s not talking; it’s listening by asking the right questions. Every exceptional leader I’ve ever interviewed is good at asking the right questions and then shutting up. Then the next characteristic is they’re not afraid to confront. And confrontation is only the skill of resolution. If I don’t confront, I can’t resolve. If I don’t resolve, I can’t continue. If I have continuation, I create a crisis, I create collisions, and by the way, I create cliques. And that exceptional leader; they know how to delegate. And that’s not easy for everybody.
Richard Flint: I was in an auto parts company one day that was working with this chain. And I was watching the manager out there doing everything, putting things on the shelf and stuff. And I was watching some of his people behind the counter just watching. And I asked him, “Why are you doing this rather than them?” He says, “Well, they’ll never do it right.” And I thought, “How can they learn?” And then the last exceptional skill I see in leaders is their ability to make decisions that continue to move the organization forward. You and I know the power of choices. And every choice we make creates a direction. And, Steve, just to take it down a step in psychology for just a second, every choice has got to have understanding to it. And the first understanding is, this choice is about adapting. It is about seeing where we need to improve. And then every choice is about making adjustments. And I find adapting easy to talk about. But when it comes to making the adjustments, that’s where so many people, so many leaders balk. And then once I adapt, and I adjust, then I have to have the challenge of aligning the company around where we need to adapt. And every leader has to be a salesperson. We’re always selling people on ideas. And we have to show people how this is going to improve the organization. A choice can never be a statement; it has to be a purpose.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m always stunned that our time is already gone. This has been a great interview today. But we’re at the end of our podcast show. And before we wrap it up, there are so many other questions that I had, by the way, but we’ll really get to this final one, which is: what are some final tips that you can share with our listeners that you think will have the greatest impact for good in their life?
Richard Flint: Number one: always manage your life. Don’t let your life manage you. That’s about pace. Number two: study every decision that you have to make before you make it. Do your research upfront. And don’t walk in and make a guess and then have to come back and tell your people, “You know what, we’ve got to do it this way.” And then third: never be afraid to be yourself, because that’s where your power is. And then number four: remind yourself every day, “If I’m not the leader, I’m a participant.”
Steve Shallenberger: Well, great advice today. So many jewels. Thanks for being with us, Richard. How can people find out about what you’re doing?
Richard Flint: There are a couple of things. RichardFlint.com is my website. And then, for the last five years of my life, I was telling you that I have developed an eight-module, 16-week leadership program called Success House. If you’d like to learn about it, go to SuccessHouse.co. And it’s one of the most powerful things we’ve ever created, about understanding and building real leadership.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, terrific! Well, thank you so much for being part of the show today. I’ve loved it. Congratulations on a lifetime and a career of making a difference and working to leave the world a better place, Richard.
Richard Flint: Thank you, Steve. Thanks for having me. Enjoyed it.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, it’s been a delight. And to our listeners, we’re ever grateful for what you add to this show. Because you’re participating, it really moves the whole bar up and causes us to want to do whatever we can to bring on great guests like Richard, who really bring value. And hopefully, you’ve had some ideas today that will really be helpful. So, congratulations, and thank you for doing things every single day as you’re working on becoming your best. And as you do that, that is a light to other people, and you’re leaving the world a better place. So, we’re grateful to lock arms with you. Thanks for being with us, and wishing you a great day. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off.
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